Bridge 3

August 3rd, 2010

Bridge 3–THE RAINMAKER

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“‘Into each life some rain,’ they say, ‘must fall.'”

“But, hey, that’s great!  It brings the flowers of May.”

“But they (those flowers of May) don’t last . . . at all.

They fade like dreams.  Blink twice, they’re gone away.”

“No . . . dreams possess a rare tenacity,

When once they blossom in the heart and mind,

Safe from the winds of harsh reality.”

“Some dreams should fade–bring pain, drive dreamers blind

With disillusionment . . . distress the soul.”

“Then why do dreamers like to work at night . . .

Hunting for diamonds through huge piles of coal–

Raised from the earth to heighten their delight?

They trust their dreams!  What dreamer would complain

When black dirt falls on his?  He’ll pray for rain.”

[Fall, 1955]

“And so you married the girl and lived happily ever after, didn’t you, Jack?”  Henry interjected.

“I had started thinking that way myself, Henry.  I was pretty high–for a few days.”

“But . . . you did marry Betty,”  Shoko said, puzzled.

“Yes, I did.  But not that easily.  As people came back for fall semester, life became complicated again.  My summer ‘idyll’ was over long before work started on the big fall play, N. Richard Nash’s The Rainmaker–that Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn did the movie version of about that time.”

Shoko brightened.  “I saw that movie . . . and liked Burt Lancaster so much I wanted to run away with him myself.”

“It’s a good play, too.  I’ve seen it done half a dozen times.  But I thought it was a fundamental error in casting when Dr. Gillis cast Betty as Lizzie.  ‘Obviously too good looking,’ I told Jordan.  ‘Lizzie is plain.  That’s what this play

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is about–a plain girl with the soul of a Romantic.  How can anyone ever see Betty as plain?  That hair, those eyes, that figure.  How can you conceal them?  You’d have to hide her in a grain sack.  I say, keep Betty, but get a different play.’

“Jordan just said, ‘She’s the best actress on campus, Jack, so I’d cast her.  Theatre is theatre.’

“Well, she was great.  They did it partly with costume and make-up–a dress cut wrong, someone’s idea of a farm-girl’s hairstyle, cosmetic high-lighting of the wrong features.  But Betty did most of it herself, with the way she stood and talked as she managed that farm kitchen, let the broad Kansas side of her voice dominate, and pride be the key to her character.  She took possession . . . better than Katharine Hepburn did.

“And Starbuck was a natural for Jordan.  Dr. Gillis had probably decided on that play because he knew he had Jordan.  And I was cast as Noah.  I came to feel it was type-casting, but it was mostly rewarding one of the faithful.  It wasn’t my first time on stage with Betty, nor my last, but, as it turned out, it was my last time on stage with Jordan–probably the greatest actor of our time . . . though I admit I’m biased.”

“You’ve got my vote, Jack,” Henry said, “for what it’s worth . . . and certainly would have had Jordan’s.”

“And he played the part of the con-man who brings this farm girl to life with his wild, romantic dreams to perfection, reaffirming the power of theatre every time he waxed rhapsodic–making me want to reach out and touch him, right now, in memory, to feel that power again–bringing rain into her life, and the bloom of springtime into her imagination, for that prosaic deputy sheriff, with his feet solidly on the ground, or up on his desk, to harvest.  Betty remarked one night, when we were parked after rehearsal, that she wasn’t happy with her character in either Pygmalion or this play.  She wondered if playwrights had any idea who their girls would really choose.

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Then she said she didn’t think she should be necking with her brother, either, that it might bring a Freudian dimension into her performance, and that I’d better take her home before it became incestuous.  I don’t think I laughed, but she did.

“I was happy when work began on the play.  There’s a security in that, and I was beginning to feel insecure.  I’d been concerned about how Jordan felt about Betty, but, when he came back, it was almost as if he didn’t know us.  There was about a month when we just didn’t see much of him.  Betty and I still went to an occasional movie together, but never approached the level of passion of our ‘moment of truth’ again.  She was now a sophomore, and, once school started, went to class and did her homework religiously, ‘to have a record to coast on when I get cast in the play,’ as she put it.

“And I’m not really sure what Jordan was doing–working on a program of Shakespeare pieces, I know, working on the Starbuck part already, going to his classes, which were all in theatre, and that he tended to treat somewhat cavalierly–everybody, including the instructors, already deferring to him as the theatre expert–and reading, as he always did, as miscellaneously as any man I’ve ever known.”

“I remember that from New York,” Henry said. “He always had a book–and spent a lot of time reading.  It might be Hakluyt’s Voyages, or Heller’s Catch-22, or Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.  I’m not sure he ever finished the Kant . . . though certainly not because he wasn’t up to it.”

“True.  Jordan had a mind, as the best actors usually do.  And he liked to talk to people, about whatever they happened to be interested in, and, if it sparked his own interest, took the path they were coming from–right then.  So he spent a lot of time in the library.  He read very rapidly, but would stop whenever he lost interest, too–ten pages in, halfway through,  in the middle of a paragraph–and throw the book away, or

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check it back in at the library.  I’ve always envied that.  I tend to finish a book just because I started it.  Whenever his reason for picking the book up was gone, Jordan put it back down.

“We’d had to give up our summer apartment, so were no longer rooming together.  Jordan had moved in with our Pickering, and I’d found another roommate, too–Dan Parker, an older graduate student who’d been cast as the father in The Rainmaker.  But we still saw each other frequently–might eat lunch together, or have a cup of coffee, or just stop to talk on the steps in front of the library–and he was always affable.

“He did seem to be avoiding Betty, though.  I asked her about it, and she said, ‘I’ve thought so, too, Jack, but don’t know why.  He still smiles and says “hello” to me in the Union, or at the library, so maybe I just imagine it.  He must be busy, too.  I guess the summer’s over.’  I finally decided she was right; it was a matter of his having lost current interest in us–just like those books, he’d put us down–nothing personal.

“In any case, he appeared to have conceded Betty to me.  I was surprised to discover how relieved I was, realizing I must have been more apprehensive about his competition than I’d thought, guilty about having stolen ground on him while he was gone, and doubtful I could hold it once he got back.  Still, I felt annoyed at not having the hold on his attention myself that I’d had during the summer, when we were almost like brothers.  Knowing how rare a spirit he was, it had flattered my ego to think that Jordan Simms took me that seriously.  I wouldn’t be able to get any closer to analyzing his, or my, motivation in that period today than I was then, either.  One of the things that made Jordan so rare was his unpredictability.

“When we all got to working on The Rainmaker, early in October, we did begin to spend time together again–but it wasn’t the same.  There are only a couple of scenes where Lizzie and Starbuck are together, only a couple where Noah

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and Starbuck are, or Lizzie and Noah.  Betty and I might go off together to unwind after rehearsal, but didn’t even ask Jordan, for Betty seemed as defensive toward his charm off-stage as Lizzie was on, or as determined to meet Jordan’s polite distance with her own–making no overtures that might be rebuffed.  And I accepted that, with my own reservations.

“But life goes on.  While I had been carefully skirting the danger of competition on one side, it came in from another.  Shortly before we started rehearsals for The Rainmaker, but after she’d been cast in the lead role, Betty met Tom Hazen.

“Betty was becoming queen of the stage, had  pledged Alpha Kappa Gamma on the strength of this potential, and was being put forward in campus social circles as their brightest sophomore star.  Tom was a senior, once-already-All-American quarterback and expected to be again–the Big Man on Campus.  You remember that young coach . . . Gabby Hirsch . . . who came up from one of those southern schools,  Tennessee or Georgia, and got credit for revolutionizing the game with the concept of field position–using the quick kick and a couple of other tricks that worked well until defenses adapted.  Well, Hirsch’s brand of open-option football  and Hazen’s triple threat physical capacities just clicked.  But you got to know Tom pretty well, didn’t you Henry?”

“Pretty well.  In New York.  You could say early and late in his professional career.  And I saw him play on television many times.  Then I helped him set up the paperwork on this property, of course.  I always liked Tom.”

“Everybody did.  Well, Betty met Tom at one of those fraternity-sorority things, when I wasn’t there to defend her, and they evidently clicked, too.  We’d been going to the home football games–after all, Kansas played the Number 1 team in the nation three times that year, and twice helped change the ranking, so it was great football, and, since we got in on our

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student-body cards, a cheap date.  But, after she met Tom, we definitely went to all the rest of the games, as Betty became fifth cheerleader, you might say, operating out of the stands.

“I never met Tom, but saw him on television a few times,” Shoko said, “and heard a lot about him from Betty . . . and then from Laura.  So I know he was a very generous spirit.”

“Yes, he was.  That was Tom’s special quality.  Well, I met him soon after Betty had–she made the occasion to introduce us–and I liked him, too.  In spite of everything, I still think of Tom as one of the best friends of my life, a good man to spend an afternoon with, and, without question, the most exciting football player I’ve ever watched.  I almost never missed a game he was in when there was television coverage.  He had the courage, or the imagination, or the gall, to do the thing you least expected.  He was dramatic . . . the highest compliment I can pay a football player.

“He had a good season his first year in Los Angeles, for a half-bald old man approaching thirty.  But the play I remember best was in a game he lost–but should’ve won–in the playoffs, on a fourth-down pass he got rid of as he was going down.  It surprised the receiver so much he dropped the ball!  Tom was visiting us shortly after that.  He told us he couldn’t help laughing at the expression on that guy’s face, and then the one on his own, in the game film.  He never took himself–or football–too seriously.  Or maybe as seriously as I take a play.  It’s everything while I’m doing it, but after it’s over–whatever milk got spilt–well, no point crying, is there?

“That’s the way I like to remember Tom–telling Laura and me . . . and Christine . . . that story of the game, and the game film.  But all I could think of that first fall I watched him play was how ridiculous it would be to lose Betty to him, for an actor-director-playwright to lose his girl–no, not his girl, the ‘idea of theatre incarnate’–to a football player.  Jordan

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Simms, yes, but some guy who didn’t even believe in plays?  Or not our kind of plays.  That would be the ultimate  absurdity.  Still, I did a lot of cheering after some of his kind of plays, as performed by an All-American–then, looking at the enthusiasm in Betty’s eyes, as she bounced up and down, tried to keep from breaking into tears.

“It soon became obvious to everyone that Betty was Tom’s girl, not mine.  She had the play and he had football training rules, so they weren’t spending a lot of time together–but enough.  And, more and more often, when I asked Betty out she’d be busy.  Well, she was busy.  But then I’d see her the next day at a table in the Student Union with Tom, some of the other girls from her sorority, and other football players.

“I began to feel left behind, good enough, perhaps even a little romantic, as the young director of his first big play, but now just another member of the cast–while she was a star.  I didn’t have the campus prestige of a Jordan Simms, another star, and certainly not of a Tom Hazen, the greatest star of all.

“Then it was Tom, not me, she asked to take her to her mother’s funeral, though I would have dropped everything to do it.  He made special arrangements with his coach to be able to drive to Dodge City with her–a day on the road each way, in his brand new Chevy Corvette–so was with her to share her grief over her mother’s death.  That was hard to take.

“I knew even then that this was unfair to Betty.  We had made no commitments, and she was just making the most of the campus social life that was opening up for her.  But there were times when I definitely cursed sophomore girls and flashy football players, times when I put a lot of myself into those scenes in which Noah really lets Lizzie have it.

“And Tom was no help.  He could read my feelings for Betty easily enough, and, when we were together, seemed almost apologetic about taking my girl–without really trying.

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Not that it was a new experience for him.  It was what he did for recreation, to occupy himself between classes, one of the perquisites of being a top football player.  But it seemed he actually had tried to dodge Betty’s enthusiasm at first.  There were a lot of girls chasing him, after all, so he could be choosy.  The trouble was that soon Betty  became special to him, too.  He even began to drop by at rehearsals, generating a lot of gossip in the cast–and, through it all, his magnanimity bothered me more than a declared antagonism would have.

“One night Jordan and I were in the green room and he raised the question, ‘Say, what about this football player that keeps showing up?  Is he going to come in here with a batch of sis-boom-bah and carry our starry-eyed Lizzie away?’

“‘I wish I knew, Jordan.  As caught up as she is in acting, I’d think you’d be her crush, her Starbuck, but she does seem to be under Hazen’s spell . . . and he is a damn attractive guy.’

“‘Well, you want to make a side bet, Jack?  It won’t last a month past the football season.’

“‘What makes you think so?’

“‘Because I know Betty.  Better than you do, I think.  Working with somebody as closely as we do on stage you have to tune to their sensibilities, if they’re going to respond to yours.  She wants action–that’s the secret with Betty.

“‘I was skeptical about her at first, in Pygmalion, but her spirit is fierce–like a tigress.  You know the female tiger does most of the killing, has qualities we mistakenly think of as masculine–is ruthless!   When Betty came up full force I was fearful for poor Higgins.  But that was exactly what we needed–just great to play off of.  And now, as I work with her as Lizzie, I know she’s not going to run off with any Starbuck–unless he’s going some place she wants to go.  She knows what she wants, and it’s not going to be to tag along–especially to an interminable series of football games.  You

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have to fight her for center stage now, Jack.  Give her another year, and none of us will be able to take it away from her.’

“‘I would agree with most of that . . . but . . .’

“‘She’s just playing games with this football player, and the sorority celebrity thing–for the practice.  Why not?  But she’ll tire of the role as fast as she picked it up.  I consider myself an objective observer, Jack–watching her watching you watching him.  She’s the real sportsman.  The game is up, and she’s enjoying it.  I don’t know what to predict for you and Betty–though certainly not a cottage for two–or what to advise.  But it will never be the football player.’

“‘I’m not so sure, old buddy.  That passion you see in her as an actress doesn’t evaporate off stage.  She’ll fly off with him somewhere and come back pregnant.  Then what?’

“‘Then what, indeed?  I don’t deny the possibility.  It’s even one to conjure with.’  He paused a moment, as if conjuring with it, then laughed, that short, sarcastic laugh that had become habitual with him.  ‘But it’s semi-irrelevant.  You don’t have anything against fallen women, do you, Jack?  If so, you’ve chosen the wrong profession. Personally, I doubt this football player could teach Betty anything she doesn’t already know.  Now you . . . or I . . .’

“I started to get up on that line, but he put out a hand to stop me, looking at me very sharply, for Jordan.  ‘Don’t get excited, Jack.  That was a general, not a specific, observation.  I’m not accusing Betty, or Betty and you, of anything.  Nor do I give a damn about her bedroom activities.  Write me off as a cynic, if you like, but the way of the world is the way of the world.  Most girls are virgins up to some point, but damn few have the capacity to act, and chances are, in that consummation devoutly to be wished, the two are mutually exclusive.

“‘It’s none of my business, but what role do you have in mind for Betty, Jack?  Housewife in suburbia?  Take her off to

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raise your progeny while you do the important things in life?  I hope I know you better than that.  Marriage and sex and all that–no doubt important for the preservation of the species–but the play’s the thing in which a man can be a king.  And a woman a queen.  You know that.  And Betty does, too–in her bones!  She’s too much tigress to allow any middle-class Puritan conception of woman to be imposed upon her.  She’ll never be fenced in, my friend . . . any more than I will.’

“And I’d thought he hadn’t been paying any attention.

“He settled back, still looking at me intently, then looked away, again falling into that condescending laugh that was his most annoying pose, perhaps because it seemed most genuine.

“‘I don’t know why I do that, Jack.  I can see it just irritates you.  And I’m with you.  So long as you can help me do what I want to do.  That’s Aristotelian friendship, isn’t it?  And I feel the same about Betty.  Exactly the same!  She’s a jewel to work with.  What do I care about your private lives?  I certainly don’t intend to undertake your moral education.  I’d be too Machiavellian for your taste, I’m afraid.  When the chips are down, my money is on old Machiavelli.  Don’t beg for her love–she’d despise that.  Make her fear the loss of something she wants, or needs–which is not a ranch-style house with a big picture window.’  He paused, looked at me again, then brightened up. ‘And stop me sooner next time.  What “necessary question of the play” were we discussing before I went off on this ridiculous tangent?’

“So we went back to whatever we’d been working on.  But I’ve often reflected back on what Jordan said that evening, on how excited he got as he said it, and what it implied about his own attitudes toward Betty . . . and now, since they died together, those words, too, keep coming back to haunt me.

“I took him pretty seriously at the time, in fact, for Betty was constantly in my thoughts, as I wondered what she did

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want, and what I wanted for–or from–her.  Why expect her to be exclusively mine?  I didn’t want to take her off the stage I myself had put her on, did I?  That was her life, as Jordan understood so well, her commitment mirroring his own.

“I watched her in her role as Lizzie, both when I was on stage with her, and, with a kind of obsession now, from the back of the auditorium when I wasn’t.  She was fantastically intense when she was in character.  It was a character that grew, came to know herself, her dreams and their limitations, much better in the course of the action, and Betty was totally convincing in revealing that growing awareness.  That was too good to be wasted.  As Jordan had pointed out, for an artist, all this ‘boys and girls’ stuff happens around the edges, like eating and sleeping, and is irrelevant to his work, to his real life.  I should take my pleasure in Betty on stage, in working with her to bring out my own capacities as an artist, in fantasized  projections–catching her in sundry unguarded moments for whatever satisfaction of sensual appetites she would tolerate–not try to carry her off as mine alone.

“‘He’s right,’ I thought, sitting there in the dark at the back of the theatre, ‘the best sense in which she can be mine is the sense in which she belongs to everyone–as a medium to an aesthetic, not a physical, experience.  The higher mode.’

“But just as I’d get this all figured out, I’d watch Betty responding to Jordan’s Melisande rhetoric–or look into her eyes as she was doing the Lily Ann Beasley bit–and want to pulverize all leading men and football players and drag my Sabine woman off to a cave by her long red hair.  For I had a compulsive physical desire for that particular young woman.

“For her part, Betty became more puzzling in her behavior toward me–sometimes overly considerate, other times peevish, frustrating me in little things, like causing us to get to a movie a little too late to see it from the beginning,  or

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making it awkward to open the door for her, then laughing–willful and petty actions that seemed designed simply to annoy.  I got the impression at times that she was running her repertoire against my reactions just for practice as an actress.

“But she didn’t act this way toward Tom.  She ordered him about, reflecting the most stereotyped ideas of the knight and his fair lady.  I had never had her ring, nor she mine–since I didn’t own one–but the week before the big Thanksgiving Day Oklahoma game, and two weeks before the opening of The Rainmaker, I saw that Tom was wearing a ring I recognized as Betty’s on a chain around his neck, and that Betty was wearing a man’s ring on a matching chain.  I asked her, trying to laugh as I did, ‘Does this mean you’re engaged?’

“‘Oh, no!  Nothing like that!  We’ve just agreed to carry each other’s token into battle, and so conduct ourselves that neither brings dishonor on the other.  Don’t you think that’s even more romantic?’  Then she did laugh, and the way she was looking at me made me think, ‘Damn your sparkling, sexy eyes, you red-headed little . . . .’  But I didn’t say anything like that, of course, just asked, ‘And whose glorious idea was that?’

“‘Tom suggested exchanging rings, but the Oklahoma game and the play was my idea–since they’re close together.  You still plan to take me to the Oklahoma game, don’t you?’

“She knew she was getting to me, and was obviously enjoying it, so I tried to be casual as I said, ‘I told you I would.  We’ll get up a carload of kids from the cast to go down with us’–which was the purest kind of masochism on my part.

“There was a touch of scorn in Betty’s voice as she said, ‘The more the merrier . . . right?’

“Neither of them dishonored the ring.  We drove down to the game with Dan and two other cast members (but not Jordan–‘To a football game?  You must be kidding, Jack?’) to see Tom have the greatest day of his collegiate career, gaining

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over a hundred yards on the ground and almost two hundred in the air, and winning by three touchdowns–which assured his own selection again as All-American and Kansas the Orange Bowl bid.  Betty talked incessantly to the others in the car, in optimistic anticipation on the way down and triumphant ecstasy on the way back.  The ring and its powers became the subject of a lot of joking, which Betty began to play upon by pretending to take it all very seriously–after her fashion.

“‘Tom told me he won’t take that ring off for anything–not to sleep, not to shower, not for anything!  Until after the Orange Bowl game.  He thinks it works.  Maybe just psychologically, but that’s how charms do work, isn’t it, Jack?’   I just drove on.  ‘If you have faith in them.  I’ll wear his ring, too– not just for the play, but until after the Orange Bowl game.’

“I’d hardly said a word the whole trip–just drove–and the very fact I was trying so hard not to comment seemed to amuse Betty, and fuel her conversation, but here I broke, and threw in, ‘And not take it off for . . . anything?’

“‘Not for anything!’  I tried to match glances with her while driving, but she’d win that kind of competition anyway.

“So the mood I was in was just right for Noah.  I was pretty good, in fact, but hardly made the notices–because Betty and Jordan were fantastic.  The Rainmaker is a well-made play, and Dr. Gillis was a good director, allowing Jordan to develop his own interpretation while directing Betty very closely.  But, beyond that, Betty was tapping something more elemental.  Whenever I caught sight of the chain that ring was on, I was tempted to rip it off and throw it as far as I could, or strangle the young witch with it, but when I was caught up in the magic of her performance I could believe in its power myself.  And, feeling that I was losing her to the power it represented, I tried to deny there could be any such power–which, as I say, was just about right for Noah.

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“There were about three weeks between the last performance of The Rainmaker and the Orange Bowl game, most of it Christmas vacation time.  And, just as I’d thought Betty was my girl at the end of summer, feeling a little guilty about having stolen her from Jordan while he was gone, so now I was ready to concede that she was Tom’s girl, with his ring around her neck, stolen from me in broad daylight, as I stood helplessly watching–which might be poetic justice, but was still hard on my ego, and cost me a lot of sleep.

“It would have been hard not to read it this way after the ridiculous scene Betty and I’d had at the cast party for The Rainmaker.  And the impression I’d stomped out of there with was underlined in the newspapers every day, for Tom was getting a lot of attention in the press as the game approached, and Betty was being written up as ‘the girl whose ring the All-American quarterback will wear into battle.’  It seemed the perfect campus romance–king of the playing fields and queen of the stage.  And, beyond being a photogenic co-ed, Betty obviously enjoyed sparring with reporters, always smiling, witty, and ambiguous, as they made copy out of those ‘magic rings’ while marking time until the day of the big game.

“Betty went down to Miami with the whole crowd of Kansans–students, faculty, alumni, insurance salesmen, wheat farmers–supporting the team.  But I had decided not to go, at first as a game of my own, but then, after the encounter at the cast party, on principle.  I knew, and Betty knew, that saying I needed to prepare for finals, or work on The Scarlet Letter, was just a dodge.  What I was having most trouble with was assuming the role of court jester, watching after the hero’s girl while he was busy preparing for the big contest.  Tom deserved better of me, I suppose–whatever Betty deserved.

“Still, I did work on The Scarlet Letter a lot.  Dan was away over vacation, too, so I could have spent whole days,

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alone in the apartment, brooding over my Hester–and what she was doing in Miami.  But, as so often, personal problems helped me retreat into my work.  Do you know Longfellow’s sonnet on translating Dante after his wife’s death by fire?”

“I think I’ve read it, Jack,” Henry said.

Shoko added, “I know that sonnet well, and like it very much.  The countess did, too, because she liked that idea.”

“And it’s true–work does offer a kind of sanctuary.

“But the game was on television.  It was the first time I saw Tom play on TV.  And I saw Betty and her ring on the screen many times, thinking to myself, ‘If I were sitting beside her I’d be on national television.  And if I put my arm around her I might get my own name on the sports page.’

“Kansas lost, in spite of the ring–on a last minute field goal that set an Orange Bowl record for length–but Tom was still the star, had the most yardage for the day.  I was enough of a fan, in spite of all, to feel that Kansas should have won.


“By the time they were all back in town, I sensed that something had happened in our little drama as well, for Betty was acting very differently.  At first I thought she was just avoiding me, after our argument, to make it easier to break off completely when her engagement to Tom was announced.  But she was avoiding him, too.  I was tempted to go ask Tom what had happened, but he anticipated me, by calling and asking if we could meet in the Union, saying he didn’t like to talk about anything important over the phone.

“As we sat over coffee, and I started talking about the game, he suddenly asked me if I knew of anything he’d done to make Betty mad.  I said, ‘My God, Tom, how would I know?  I wasn’t even in Miami.  And Betty’s hardly talking to me at all.  If you figure her out, please explain her to me.’

“As I left the coffee shop, and looked back at that baffled athlete, I felt sympathy for a fellow human being, who seemed

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to have everything–except Betty.  I could identify with that.  But it left me speculating on this mystery for the next week–through final exams.  In spite of all, Betty was scrupulously pleasant when we met, just withdrawn, pensive, refusing even to talk.  ‘I’m studying for finals, Jack,’ she would say.

“Then, the evening after her last final she went to dinner with Jordan, having asked him out, to the most expensive restaurant in town.  So I made a point of locating Jordan the next day, to find out what was going on.  I told him I needed to know because of The Scarlet Letter–needed to know if Betty was going to play Hester, and she wouldn’t tell me.

“Jordan said the dinner with Betty had been an exercise in seduction, and I’d almost lost my Dimmesdale as well as my Hester.  ‘She asked me to take her to New York, Jack.  Now!  And . . . I was tempted.  What do you think?  We’d be fielding a pretty good team.  You could come, too–the way we talked about last summer.  We could be the three musketeers again.’

“I found myself considering the idea for a moment.  Then I told him that nothing I could do in New York would take the place of the work I was doing to get my MA–that I wasn’t ready yet.  But then I made the mistake of ending by saying that, if he wanted to take Betty, she was certainly his to take.

“Jordan gave me a peculiar look, as if he didn’t know who he was talking to, then shook his head. ‘Not mine to take, Jack.  Just not yours to keep.  But I told her almost exactly what you’ve just told me, that I’m not ready yet.  Why not do the Shakespeare play here–her, too–and your play–and finish my BA–before going off to New York with the stronger credentials?  I suggested that we talk about it again in May, that, if she still wants to go, I might be willing to take her then.  It’s difficult for a woman to go alone–I understand that.’

“My first reaction was to wonder why Betty hadn’t asked me, though she might associate me with those wanting to keep

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her in Kansas, like Dr. Gillis, to do their college plays, when she could be plunging into her destined professional career in New York.  Still, she might have asked.  And I might have gone.  I also had the feeling that this might be some kind of plot between them, or, more likely, a test, to see how I’d respond.  And I would have guessed that I hadn’t passed.

“Then, as if in planned sequence, Betty had her evening out with Tom.  He met me the next day to say she’d broken off with him completely, in very formal terms, said she was going to be a professional actress, and gave him back his ring.  He was obviously upset, but said he didn’t even challenge her, or argue with her at all, believed her on the spot, that ‘It couldn’t have been an act, Jack.  She’d definitely made up her mind.’

“So Jordan had been right–it wouldn’t be the football player.  Soon Tom had lost himself in negotiations concerning his future as a professional athlete, and, before long, it became obvious that both Tom and Betty were going to survive their college romance more or less unscarred.  By then, they were even dating again occasionally–he took her to the cast party for Richard III–and they remained, so long as both of them lived, as they say, the ‘best of friends.’

“Then I guess it was my turn, when, one evening a few days later, Betty found me in the Experimental Theatre.  It was all very tentative, but I had been worrying with technical problems in staging The Scarlet Letter, and a friend and I had mocked up a rough scaffold.  He had gone home, and I was just making notes to myself about necessary changes, when I heard something behind me, turned around, and there was Betty, standing in the half-light in the back of the theatre.  It was like seeing a ghost, and I may have jumped a little, then said, ‘My God, Betty . . . you surprised me.  I didn’t hear you come in.  I thought I was seeing Hester Prynne.   How long have you been there?’

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“‘For a while.  I decided to wait until Frank left to talk to you.  I’ve been watching.  Is that where Hester stands?’  She came and sat down in the front row, looking up at me.

“‘Yes, but just a mock-up, to give me an idea of what the technical problems are.  I’m still not sure I’ll be doing the play.’  There was perhaps half a minute of silence, as I waited for her comment, then I asked, with my usual diplomacy, ‘And how about you?  Are you planning to go to New York?’

“She looked surprised, but recovered quickly, and said, ‘I see Jordan’s been talking to you.’  Then she just stared in front of her, before saying, very deliberately, ‘No, Jack, I came to tell you I’ve decided to stay here.  To be your Hester.’

“I should have been elated, since I don’t think I’d have done the play without her, but something in her tone chilled my exuberance.  I sat on the edge of the stage and we just looked at each other, until I finally said, ‘I’m pleased,’ without sounding pleased even to myself, and then, ‘but I’m worried about you, Betty.  What’s going on with you?  With you and Tom?  With you and Jordan?  I hear these stories . . .’

“‘Yes . . . what’s going on with me?’  She looked at me with another expression I hadn’t seen before–proud, but weary, as if about to break into tears, but determined not to.  I thought, ‘If ever there actually were a Hester Prynne . . .’

“Then I couldn’t resist it.  I did begin to get excited, saying, ‘Come stand on the scaffold.  Let me look at you in this light.’  She stood on the scaffold as I looked at her from a dozen angles–from the front and back of the auditorium.  But something just wasn’t right.  Something was missing.

“I thought, ‘Of course,’ and said, ‘I’ve got the scarlet letter there in my briefcase.  Put that on.  And let me fix your hair.’  She sat on the steps, and I sat directly behind her.  I started to arrange her hair so it came down over her shoulders, to frame the scarlet letter she was pinning to her bosom.  I had both

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hands deep in that auburn hair when I said, ‘I’ve been talking to Tom, too.  We’re all mystified.  What’s going on?’

“She didn’t say anything, but I had my knees under her arms and felt her sides begin to shake, then heard her muffled crying.  ‘Betty?  Come on now!  I don’t want my Hester . . .’  I was trying to play the dispassionate counselor, but it wasn’t working.  My voice was quavering.  I put my cheek against her hair, and let my hands slip down to take hers.  Then, the mixture of touch and fragrance making me heady, I whispered, ‘I’d do anything for you . . . you must know that.’

“I was holding her tightly now, my arms across that scarlet letter on her breast, rising and falling to the rhythm of her breathing, when she muttered her reply, ‘Damn you, Jack.’  She pulled loose, but just enough to turn on the step and look up at me, looking steadily into my eyes, then said, ‘And damn your play . . . and your godly magistrates!’

“But that’s not what her eyes said.  I was sure I saw the same look I’d seen that night in late summer when, as I’d come to think, not responding to the elemental female had lost me the girl.  I wasn’t going to pass again.  I pulled her around, brushed the loose hair back from her cheek, and kissed her.  Then we were both fumbling with buttons and things.

“It intrigued me to wonder afterward if Hester and Dimmesdale had conceived Pearl under the scaffold.  Surely not.  It must have been in the forest, or somewhere in the church. But it would have been appropriate.  Betty as Hester–the eternal Eve–the forbidden fruit–was incredibly delicious at the base of our crude scaffold.  I wondered what she was thinking, as I was thinking, ‘Finally, she’s mine!  My Hester!’

“Betty was a full participant–there was no question about that–but wouldn’t even talk to me the next day.  Later, when I told her that Dan would let us have the apartment, any time, she just shook her head ‘no.’  I thought she was afraid of being

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discovered–sleeping around wasn’t generally accepted among  sophomores then–but she was absolutely opposed.  ‘No, Jack!  That’s in Hester’s past.  Do you think they did it more than once?’  She had me there.  What do you think, Henry?

“‘If not, it would have been Dimmesdale’s fault.  I think Hester would have been willing to seal the pact again when they met in the forest, when she was trying to get him to run off with her.”  Henry hesitated for a moment.  “I shouldn’t ask, Jack, but, just among friends, was Betty a virgin?’

“And I shouldn’t answer,” I said, looking at Shoko, “but, no, I’m afraid not.  Another thing to talk to Mr. Harris about.  But I didn’t bother with reflections on that–since I wasn’t either . . . Japanese girls being what they are.”  Henry laughed, but Shoko frowned at me.  “Nor did I worry about Lizzie’s settling for the poor student-director.  I was too elated.

“Still, thinking back, it was perfectly understandable on her part.  I was the best option left, could offer her more than either of her Starbucks could–a leading role in a play.  And, within days, by the way they greeted me on campus, I got the impression that both of them were relieved to see that I was taking her off of their hands.  After all, what would Starbuck have done if Lizzie had actually run away with him?

“I was temporarily euphoric–even if already sensing that the dream I really had to fear was the one that had brought her back to me.  But every time I was close enough to touch her I forgot about that, and, even when I wasn’t, I was likely to be thinking about her . . . all mixed up with Hester Prynne.

“Tom had never given Betty’s ring back–he did have a trophy case, after all–and, three months later, as The Scarlet Letter was about to open, I asked her if she thought she could get that magic ring from him for our show–as a joke, I thought.  But this time Betty didn’t laugh–just looked at me as if I couldn’t be expected to understand.”

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